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Court Imposes Strict Deadline in Lawsuit

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2008/01/08 10:54

The Supreme Court on Tuesday imposed a six-year deadline for suing the federal government in property disputes.

The justices ruled 7-2 that a company waited too long to complain in court that the government took the firm's property.

The decision came in a suit by the John R. Sand & Gravel Co. of Lapeer County, Mich., which sought compensation for the loss of some of the land it had leased from the property owners.

Justice Stephen Breyer said a federal appeals court was correct in raising the deadline question without being asked to do so, and to rule that the company had missed the deadline.

In some instances such as lawsuits against the government, the Supreme Court "has often read the time limits ... as more absolute," Breyer wrote.

Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, saying the majority's decision "has a hollow ring" because the court previously had overturned a precedent that it relied on for Tuesday's decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Stevens in dissent.

In the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency began blocking access to portions of the property because the agency was overseeing the cleanup of a landfill under the federal Superfund law.

The owners of the 158-acre site in Metamora Township, Mich., had used part of the property for a landfill for tens of thousands of drums of toxic industrial waste.

The dispute is among several recent cases regarding whether filing deadlines under various laws prohibit courts from hearing a case or merely lay down rules on how and when to file a claim.

At issue in the current case is the power of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims under the Tucker Act. The act allows lawsuits against the government for claims involving federal contracts and the taking of private property without fair compensation.

In the suit involving John R. Sand & Gravel Co., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said it had no jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit because of the six-year deadline.


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